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Thursday, June 8, 2023

Institute For Community Leadership Receives Gold Star Award From Tacoma Public Schools

Students and staff from the Institute for Community Leadership pose outside the Tacoma School Board office after receiving a Gold Star Community Partner Award from Tacoma Public Schools. Courtesy Photo.

By Aaron Allen, The Tacoma True Citizen

Tacoma Public Schools recently honored the Institute for Community Leadership (ICL) with their Gold Star Community Partner Award for the work they do with youth teaching them skills in the areas of leadership and civic engagement.

For more than 25 years, ICL has worked with community organizations and schools in more than 100 school districts in 17 states and five countries. Located in Kent at the Jack O’Dell Education Center, ICL helps students increase their reading, writing, oratory and listening skills while instilling them with the confidence to succeed both in the classroom and in community leadership roles.  

Youth participate in weekly leadership classes feature dynamic peer facilitators.  In addition to attending classes, students identify specific problems or inequities they feel need to be addressed in civic life, and they take on leadership roles with the support of their peers, in problem solving and advocacy.

“Here at the Institute for community leadership, we work statewide with focus on the south Puget Sound, we work with young people on ethical leadership and non-violent and civic engagement,” says Dr. Nyla Rosen, Director of O’Dell Education Center. “We are really facing a crisis in our nation right now in civic engagement, in ethic and values in public education and as Dr. King teaches when we fail to participate civically the content of democracy is emptied.”

According to Amanda Scott-Thomas, Director of Tacoma Public Schools Community Partnerships, community partnerships are vital to the overall success of the school district and its students.

“When it comes to student success Tacoma Public Schools recognizes that schools cannot do it alone. In recognition of an investment of time, talent and resources for TPS students, families and staff – the Gold Star Community Partner Award signifies honor and thanks to a community partner who has made a difference by doing what is best for kids,” said Scott-Thomas, as she presented the Gold Star to a group of students, parents, staff and teachers from the Institute for Community Leadership.

“ICL greatly values our partnership with Tacoma Public Schools,” says Rosen. “And we have actually worked with Tacoma Public Schools for decades and the partnership permits the students to access the ICL and it is very uplifting to have that partnership recognized.”

ICL’s programs allows students to be involved throughout their high school careers and even after as some students who have graduated from the program have become staff members and coaches themselves for ICL.

“The leadership initiative takes place outside of school on evenings, weekends and all school breaks,” says Rosen. “The average length of participation can go from one semester to up 5 years.  Some students stay with us, we pride ourselves in that many of our staff are themselves graduates of the leadership program.”

As part of the program, students study Dr. Martin Luther King’s non-violent ideology as well as his personal transformation through social participation. Other activities include leadership seminars with elected officials, community leaders, cultural leaders, tribal (Native American) leadership. During these meetings students get the opportunity to ask questions about leadership and leadership struggles.

Students like Margarita Sanchez, a junior at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, who is a ICL participant, holds great pride in the work she and her team and coaches have accomplished and are humbled by the recognition they have received.

“Receiving the award really made me feel proud,” says Sanchez. “The work that myself and other students and coaches have done, it made me feel that the Tacoma School Board has actually recognized what we are doing and what we are trying to accomplish.”

With all of the events occurring around the nation and the world ICL believes it is important that our communities youth become well versed in civic engagement and learn that their voices are valued, empowering and through civic engagement and ethical leadership notions such as peace, unity and justice are not just theoretical talking points but values that can be shared and enacted.

“This is such a critical time to be involved in education and to be involved civically,” says Rosen.  “The institute’s curriculum acknowledges that one’s voice is really one’s connection to culture and to personal and group power and the curriculum assist student and adults in becoming a voice for something larger than ourselves.

“At this point in our city of Tacoma, in our state and in our nation, we are in dire need of voices for peace and unity and justice,” Rosen continued.

Sanchez agrees and says that its important for people from different backgrounds to get involved, stay involved and help make a difference.

“As a first-generation Latin student, we are living in crisis where democracy in our nation is dwindling and so it is important to get involved and encourage others to vote because not a lot of people are engaged or paying attention to the times that we are living in,” says Sanchez. “We have to realize our cultural connections and spiritual connections to one another to keep this democracy alive and help each other out and we need representatives from different backgrounds and different cultures to continue the movement.”

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